Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Why does the University of California Press support reactionary legislation opposing public access to scientific research?

By Michael Eisen

A bill (H.R. 3699) was just introduced into the US House of Representatives that would deny the American public access to the results of scientific and medical research carried out at taxpayer expense.

The bill's target is the National Institutes of Health's Public Access Policy

The NIH Public Access Policy ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. It requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication.  To help advance science and improve human health, the Policy requires that these papers are accessible to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication.

Because of this policy, enacted in 2008, physicians and their patients, teachers and their students, policymakers and the public have access to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-funded studies that would otherwise have been locked behind expensive publisher paywalls, accessible only to a small fraction of researchers at elite and wealthy universities.

The policy has been popular – especially among disease and patient advocacy groups fighting to empower the people they represent to make wise healthcare decision, and teachers educating the next generation of researchers and caregivers.

But the policy has been quite unpopular with many in the scientific and medical publishing industry. And Reps Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) just introduced a bill - seemingly at the behest of publishers - that would end the NIH Public Access Policy, and forbid any other federal agency from doing anything like it. Unsurprisingly, the bill was immediately endorsed by the Association of American Publishers (and sounds as if it were written by them), under the ludicrous pretense that the policy threatens American jobs.

What IS surprising, however, that the University of California Press is a member of the AAP, and is thus complicit is this atrocious effort to place the private interests of a small number of publishers ahead of the public good.

At a time when the University is facing horrific budget cuts, it is simply inexcusable that funds from a University subsidized entity are being used to promote reactionary legislation that is completely antithetical to the interests of the University, its students, teachers and researchers, and the public.

The Press should denounce this bill and suspend its membership in the AAP until it reverses its opposition to the NIH Public Access policy. If it does not, the University must terminate their relationship immediately.